ROM statement addresses Into the Heart of Africa exhibition
Reconciliation includes next steps for the ROM and CFTA to work collaboratively
TORONTO, November 9, 2016 – The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) issued the following statement at a reconciliation event with the Coalition for the Truth about Africa (CFTA), held at the Museum earlier this evening:
“The Royal Ontario Museum produced the exhibition Into the Heart of Africa, which opened at the Museum in November 1989. This exhibition was intended to critically examine the colonial relationships and premises through which collections from African societies had entered museums.
The exhibition displayed images and words that showed the fundamentally racist ideas and attitudes of early collectors and, in doing so, unintentionally reproduced the colonial, racist and Eurocentric premises through which these collections had been acquired. Thus, Into the Heart of Africa perpetuated an atmosphere of racism and the effect of the exhibition itself was racist. The ROM expresses its deep regret for having contributed to anti-African racism. The ROM also officially apologizes for the suffering endured by members of the African-Canadian community as a result of Into the Heart of Africa.”
The ROM statement was delivered by Dr. Mark Engstrom, the Museum’s Deputy Director, Collections and Research, who has guided the reconciliation process for the ROM, Josh Basseches, Director and CEO of the ROM, and Martha Durdin, Chair, ROM Board of Trustees. This statement was accepted by Rostant Ras Rico John, on behalf of the CFTA.
In addition, the ROM announced a number of steps it will take in the coming years to continue to strengthen collaboration with African-Canadian communities and help shape the museum of the future. These include enhanced partnerships with Black educational networks, opportunities for training Black youth interested in museums, and continued support of events and lectures that address the history and cultures of Africa and the Diaspora. Working with the CFTA and other community partners, the ROM is committed to sustained and meaningful programming, and acknowledges the importance of dialogue and collaboration toward enhancing its collection and public events.
Rostant Rico John, CFTA Spokesperson said, “Greetings, it is good and pleasant that, on behalf of the CFTA and the African community in Canada, we would like to express our pride in having reached this point of reconciliation after twenty-seven years. It took many gallant efforts by people inside and outside of the ROM to reconcile and both the ROM and CFTA worked diligently, persistently, and consistently to arrive at this agreement. We would like to congratulate all the participants in this effort: The ROM’s Dr. Mark Engstrom, Cheryl Blackman, and Dr. Silvia Forni; and the CFTA Rico John, Yao Akyeaw, Dr. Afua Cooper, Geraldine Moriba and Ajamu Khalfani for working together to achieve this historic milestone. And also, I thank CFTA members for their significant efforts, analyses, and intents which stood the test of time”.
Mr. John continued, “The CFTA’s community gracefully accepts the apology advanced by the ROM. We jointly look forward and will work fervently to see other initiatives as agreed upon come to fruition. We would like to say on behalf of the African community again, a heartfelt thanks to those people in our community who have worked hard to bring this to fruition. Jah live!”
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About the ROM
Opened in 1914, the ROM’s collections comprise over six million objects and specimens and its galleries showcase art, culture, and nature. Among the world’s most renowned museums, the ROM is Canada’s largest with the dual mandate of natural history and world cultures. The Renaissance ROM expansion project (2007) retrieved the best of the Museum’s beautiful historic architecture while also merging its iconic heritage building with the Studio Daniel Libeskind-designed Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. The ROM is the country’s largest field research institution and a world leader in areas encompassing biodiversity, palaeontology, and earth sciences to archaeology, ethnology, and visual culture—originating new information towards a global understanding of historical and modern change in the natural and cultural worlds. For tickets and 24-hour information in English and French, visit www.rom.on.ca or call 416.586.8000. For Membership enquiries, please call 416.586.5700.
About the CFTA
CFTA means Coalition For the Truth about Africa. CFTA came into being in the fall of 1989 after a number of individuals had seen the exhibit, Into the Heart of Africa at the ROM, discussed it, concluded that it was racist, and decided to do something about it. We called on a number of different groups and individuals within our communities and as a result came together as an ad hoc group interimly. We later consolidated ourselves as a broad-based coalition consisting of nearly a hundred groups from across Canada. The CFTA is comprised of Christians, Muslims, Rastafari, Orisha/Shango, and some non-religious and non-spiritual people. We all worked under the mandate to respond to the Into the Heart of Africa exhibition. N.B. Many CFTA members had been, and some are still vilified and hurt by this experience. Even after 27 years, we still persevere. Amandla Africa!